VIENNA May 11 Conchita Wurst came home to a
heroine's welcome in Austria on Sunday after the bearded drag
queen won the Eurovision Song Contest in what she called a
victory over the forces of intolerance, including Russian leader
Sporting high heels, a tight dress, butterfly eyelashes and
a full beard, Wurst - whose birth name is Tom Neuwirth - swept
to victory with her "Rise Like a Phoenix" ballad before a global
TV audience of about 180 million people in 45 countries.
"I share the opinion that this was not a victory just for me
but for the people who believe in a future that works without
discrimination and is based on tolerance and respect. This
transcends borders," the 25-year-old "queen of Europe" said.
The Danish organisers had declared tolerance a main theme
for this year's event, and the rainbow-coloured flag symbolising
gay pride flew in many places in Copenhagen over the past week.
Visibly moved by her triumph, the openly gay Wurst had told
the enthusiastic crowd in Copenhagen that the movement she has
come to symbolise was "unstoppable".
"This was of course directed against some politicians that
we know and I just wanted to tell them that in the end good
always wins and is unstoppable," she told reporters on Sunday.
Asked if she was referring specifically to Putin given
Russian campaigns against promoting homosexuality to young
people, she said: "Among others."
But she noted that the fact she won votes from Russia as
well showed not all Russians were intolerant.
Austrian media have generally celebrated Wurst's budding
career, but many in the largely conservative, Roman Catholic
country have had mixed feelings about her rise to fame.
An online poll for the populist Krone tabloid found just 23
percent of respondents were proud of the singer whose journey
from a rural boyhood to hirsute drag queen has gripped the
The annual Eurovision Song Contest, which has a huge gay
following, will take place in Austria next year after the
country's first win since Udo Juergens took the prize in 1966
with the gentle song "Merci, Cherie".
Reaction to Wurst's appearance highlighted Europe's
geographical divide on attitudes to homosexuality. Largely
accepted without controversy in the West, it prompted criticism
by some in the East where anti-gay rhetoric remains more common.
Online petitions emerged in Belarus, Armenia and Russia -
whose government passed a law last year banning "gay propaganda"
among minors - to have Wurst removed or edited out of broadcasts
in their countries.
"With the beard she expresses the image of opposing
homophobia and I find this good," said 12-year-old Jakob de
Raaij from Tullnerbach near Vienna, sporting a painted-on beard
as he waited with a clutch of Conchita fans outside her airport
Neuwirth moved to Graz at the age of 14 to study fashion
design and created the persona of Conchita Wurst at an Austrian
talent competition in 2011.
"The beard is a statement to say that you can achieve
anything, no matter who you are or how you look," Wurst told
Reuters in an interview last month.
(Editing by Sophie Hares)